Koolhaas Exhibition Arrives in New York
Countryside, The Future, an exhibition by renowned architect Rem Koolhaas, is currently on display at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. The exhibition shines a spotlight on the environmental and societal issues faced around the world today, as a result of expanding industrialization. Koolhaas has collaborated with accomplished scientists and environmentalists to analyze the various factors contributing to climate change and the rise and fall of ecosystems and communities around the world. The exhibition provides fascinating insight on human migration patterns, and explains different scenarios which cause civilizations to move from the countryside to the city (and, eventually, back to the countryside).
The Inspiration behind Countryside, The Future
Koolhaas defines the countryside as “the 90% of the Earth’s surface not occupied by cities.” In Countryside, The Future, Koolhaas draws on ideologies from ancient civilizations – particularly, the Romans and the Chinese, who valued rural areas for environmental and spiritual reasons. Koolhaas believes that modern society should uphold similar beliefs. “The countryside was where you went to think, an environment where you could unfold private ambitions. There was an inherent respect for nature,” he states in an interview with The New Yorker. “We wanted to put the countryside back on the agenda, and also show that the countryside is a terrain, or domain, where you can have a fulfilling life.”
Koolhaas shares interesting observations about the transition from the countryside to city living. In the late twentieth century, the United States and Europe experienced a shortage of food after the war. This resulted in the expansion of farming sites in rural areas, and efforts to improve the efficiency of agricultural production. The commercialization of farm land was also a catalyst for migration from the countryside to the city, as many people were pushed out of their homeland and exposed to the urban lifestyle. As time went on, the mentality in developed countries shifted, and western, capitalistic thinking became the standard for doing business. As a result, the valuation of the countryside was gradually forgotten, and replaced with ambitions of material success found in cities. In Countryside, The Future, Koolhaas demonstrates several innovative solutions to intertwine ancient principles and scientific methods with the technology of today.
Before even stepping foot inside the Guggenheim Museum, visitors are immediately confronted with a striking dichotomy that exemplifies Koolhaas’s studies. Outside the building is an indoor farming complex, which uses pink LED lights to grow pesticide-free tomatoes. The indoor farm has successfully produced 100 pounds of tomatoes per week. With the bustling life of New York City in the background, Countryside, The Futurehas landed at the perfect location to help prove Koolhaas’s theories.
The indoor tomato farm isn’t the only futuristic setup Koolhaas has on display. Inside the museum, a device called a PhenoMate is busy scanning plant leaves and calculating the efficiency of the photosynthesis cycle for each individual. There is also a “pixel farming” display, which Koolhaas explains is based on a Mayan farming technique. The idea is to plant different types of crops next to each other in order to maximize the nutrients in the soil. Plants that have a symbiotic relationship to one another also provide protection from pests and disease. Although there is still much research to be done, experiments such as these have the potential to pay big dividends as the scientific community continues to look for answers to control climate change.
Throughout the Guggenheim, Koolhaas’s exhibits take visitors on a tour of a utopian world where nature and industry work together in perfect harmony. One room shows a scene of an African village powered entirely by wind. Another illustrates scenarios of protected animal species peacefully interacting with people. Koolhaas does not appear to take a negative stance on technology – in fact, he seems to believe that it plays a starring role in solving some of the world’s most pressing problems. Throughout his displays, Koolhaas utilizes mobile devices, drones, and artificial intelligence to unite ecosystems with economic activities and strike a healthy balance between urbanization and conservation.
Returning to the Countryside
A recent study by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that humans take up 70% of the ice-free land on the planet. Unfortunately, 25% of that land is impacted by environmental degradation that can be directly attributed to human activity and interference. In Countryside, The Future, Koolhaas emphasizes the importance of using innovation, technology, and research to give back to the planet what we took from it. Ironically, humanity relies on the countryside now more than ever. As Koolhaas put it, “Just 200 years later, we have to ‘save’ nature to save ourselves.”